The former Viking settlement of Wick is the principal town in the far north of the mainland. The town sits astride the River Wick, stretching along both sides of Wick Bay, and holds the claim to fame of once being the busiest herring port in Europe in the mid 19th century. The remains of the Castle of Old Wick, often referred to as the Old Man of Wick, sits atop the edge of the cliffs about half a mile south of Wick Bay and overlooks the sea.
Around 3 miles north from Wick the dramatic 15th to 17th century ruins of Sinclair and Girnigoe castles rise steeply from a needle-thin promontory. There is a good clifftop walk to the castle via Noss Head Lighthouse from the tiny fishing village of Staxigoe. Visitors will encounter a wide selection of wildlife along the way including various species of seabirds and puffins and a beautiful scenic beach, popular for windsurfing and sand-yachting, awaits them at the end of Sinclair Bay.
The town’s story is told in the excellent Wick Heritage Centre in Bank Row, Pultneytown (Wick is actually two towns – Wick proper, and Pultneytown, immediately south across the river), which contains a fascinating array of artefacts from the old fishing days.
As far north as you can go in Scotland without dropping off the end, the landscape of Caithness has a wild, elemental beauty, fringed by spectacular cliff shorelines and sandy beaches. Fertile croft land alternates with moorland and in the centre is the evocatively named Flow Country, the largest wetland expanse of its kind in Europe.
The north coast, consisting of rugged cliffs and magnificent sandy beaches, is battered by the waves from the Atlantic Ocean and Pentland Firth and is internationally acclaimed as a challenging surfing venue. The inland area features low-lying grasslands smattered with lochs, rivers and hills reaching 200 metres – popular for fishing and shooting. It is a sparsely populated area, mainly restricted to the small villages along the route of the A837 with Thurso being the main town in the area.
The area is famous for its bird life and sea life in the surrounding waters, where you may see dolphins, seals and even whales.
John o’Groats is famous for being the starting point for sponsored walks and cycle runs to Land’s End at the south western tip of England but has little appeal for visitors other than its views to Orkney and boat trips to view the bird colonies and seals. 2 miles to the east is Duncansby Head with dramatic cliffs where many seabirds nest, craggy inlets and the 60 metre high rock Muckle Stack.
About 8 miles to the west is Castle Mey, the former home of the late Queen Mother, open to the public and with an interesting walled garden. Dunnet Head, about 7 miles to the north west, is the most northerly point of Scotland and Dunnet Bay a couple of miles south, has an amazing long sandy beach (a popular surfing venue) with dunes and nature trails into the forest.
Thurso is Scotland’s most northerly town, where the A9 from the south meets the A836 which runs along the north coast. Attractions in the town include the Thurso Heritage Museum and the ruins of the 13th century Old St Peter’s Church but the area has excellent surfing beaches. Scrabster, a mile to the west, is the ferry terminal for Orkney. Dounreay Nuclear Power Station Visitor Centre is 10 miles west of Thurso.
17 miles south Wick, which was originally a Viking settlement, has a fascinating Heritage Centre which focuses on the local fishing industry and an interesting photographic collection. There are two castles on the cliffs near Wick: the ruins of the 12th century Old Wick Castle to the south and Castle Sinclair to the north.
The 80 miles of mostly single tracked road from Thurso to Tongue travels through some stunning coastland scenery and sandy beaches, for example Melvich, Bettyhill (part of which is the Invernaver Nature Reserve) and Coldbackie. At Forsinard, 15 miles south of Melvich on the A897, there is a RSPB visitor centre and a Peatland Centre. Tongue has a magnificent setting overlooking the Kyle of Tongue with the mountains to the south and is dominated by the ruins of the 14th century Castle Varrich. About 10 miles to the west is Loch Eriboll, a stunning, deep sea loch surrounded by 800 metre-high mountains and minke whales, porpoises and seals can often be seen in the loch.
Just off the north coast of Scotland, an archipelago of around 70 islands and skerries creates a glittering array of shapes set against clear blue waters. The smaller isles of Orkney offer a world of serenity on sandy white shores while the Mainland houses the majority of the population and many attractions including an arts and crafts trail. Beautiful beaches combine with heritage, culture and wonderful wildlife to make any trip to Orkney distinct and magical.